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How to bring down the cost of summer camp

  • Camp Wa-Tam counselors and participants splash each other while canoeing on Lake Ralphine in Santa Rosa. (JOHN BURGESS/Press Democrat)

Jennifer McClendon's 8-year-old daughter, Alexa, is busy over summer vacation.

For the better part of 12 weeks, she attends one of several summer camps operated by the city of Santa Rosa or hops over to Rohnert Park for a private gymnastics camp.

The camps aren't too expensive, but over 12 weeks, they add up. By mid-August, McClendon figures she will rack up a bill of nearly $2,000.

“I work full time, so she's in camp every day except for when we take a family vacation,” said McClendon, a program director for a Santa Rosa nonprofit group.

Fortunately for McClendon and thousands of other parents, you can recoup some of the costs of summer camp on your tax bill.

Many families don't know it, but parents can claim a tax credit for day camp expenses for children under the age of 13 on their tax returns, just like regular daycare.

“I definitely report it on my taxes,” McClendon said. “It makes a difference.”

There are a few things to know about summer camp and taxes.

First, the size of the tax credit you can claim is limited by the amount you spend on daycare during the school year. Combined, you can claim up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more. So, if you spend $2,000 during the school year on one child, the most you can claim for summer camp is $1,000.

Also, just about any of the generalized summer camps will qualify, but certain specialized, lesson-oriented camps might not, said Wikiup tax preparer Steve Pletkin.

Expenses for overnight camps or summer-school tutoring do not qualify. And there are age restrictions. The IRS generally won't allow a summer camp credit for someone 17 or older, Pletkin said.

But for the most part, summer camp is an accepted daycare expense. Pletkin said he's surprised by the number of people who are unaware of the credit.

“I do get my fair share of people not knowing,” Pletkin said. “I see they have young kids and they both work, and I say, 'OK, who takes care of the kids after school? Did they go to summer camp?'”

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